Wednesday, 28 May 2014
8. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the imposition of martial law in Thailand and the fact that army soldiers have occupied government buildings in the country, which has a history of military coups and dictatorships; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23184/14]
I was asked to raise this question to draw to the Minister's attention the situation following the military coup in Thailand. Many Thai people live in Ireland and many Irish people travel on holiday to Thailand and also live there. The country has a history of military interventions. Soldiers yesterday detained a prominent minister of the ousted government who had emerged from hiding to criticise the coup. The army has occupied many government buildings. My question may give the House an opportunity to comment on the situation in Thailand.
I am deeply concerned about current developments in Thailand and my Department is monitoring the situation very closely. Following months of pro- and anti-government protests, on 22 May the Royal Thai Army announced that it was taking control of the government and suspending the constitution, having imposed martial law across Thailand two days previously. The acting Prime Minister, Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan, and his ministers were ordered to report to a military compound north of Bangkok, and political gatherings of more than five people have been banned. I call on the military to accept and respect the constitutional authority of the civilian power as a basic principle of democratic governance. It is of the utmost importance that Thailand returns rapidly to the legitimate democratic process and holds credible and inclusive elections as soon as feasible.
The Irish embassy in Kuala Lumpur, which has responsibility for Thailand, is in close contact with Ireland’s honorary consulates in Bangkok and Phuket, which remain open and functioning. Irish citizens in Thailand or those thinking of travelling to Thailand should check the travel advice on my Department’s website, which is updated as necessary. Any Irish citizens in Thailand should exercise extreme caution, monitor developments through the media and social media and follow the instructions of the authorities. Irish citizens should take extra care to avoid any demonstrations, protests or security operations and should note that the army has announced a nightly curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
I welcome the Tánaiste's expression of concern and in particular his concern for Irish people in Thailand. There is a long history of interventions by the military in that country. Since 1932 there have been 12 military coups and seven unsuccessful coups. I commend the Minister's proactive approach to the security of Irish citizens in Thailand. Is the Department providing information to citizens on actions to be taken if the situation worsens? I presume there is an EU mission presence in Thailand, which may be the first point of contact for Irish citizens. More than 100 people have been arrested, including dissenting politicians and journalists. What can Ireland do? Will the Minister raise the issue in international forums?
Approximately 65,000 Irish citizens visit Thailand each year, as it is quite a popular holiday destination. It has been arranged that any Irish person in Thailand or anyone thinking of travelling to Thailand should check the travel advice on my Department's website, which is updated regularly. Thailand is currently serviced from our embassy in Kuala Lumpur and by honorary consulates in Bangkok and Phuket. Information about the honorary consulates is available on the Department's website. These are the recommended points of contact for those who may be in difficulty.
In January 2014 the Government decided to open a new embassy in Bangkok. We are continuing with the arrangements to open the embassy and Mr. Brendan Rogers has been appointed as ambassador. Notwithstanding the developments in Thailand, we intend to continue with the arrangements to open the embassy. Until the embassy is opened, people should seek information from the website, from the honorary consulates and, if necessary, from the embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
We need to be very proactive in our response to this situation. I am concerned about the message that the decision to open the embassy may give. There is a need for Ireland to support the democratic institutions in Thailand. I agree that arrangements for the opening of the embassy should go ahead, but we should send a strong message to the Thai authorities that if the situation in the country continues, Ireland will review its relationship with that country.
There are two dimensions to be considered, one of which is the interests of Irish citizens who are in Thailand or who intend to visit it. Because of the numbers involved, it is important to have a presence on the ground in Bangkok. For this reason we intend to continue with the arrangements to open the embassy. Second, we are clear in our view of the military takeover that we want a restoration of democracy and the holding of elections. The European Union has issued a clear statement, which we support. We will continue to co-ordinate policy with the European Union. We want to see a restoration of democracy in Thailand and we will work to that end. However, we must look to the needs of our own citizens, many of whom visit Thailand.
It may slow down a little because of the military takeover and the imposition of the curfew, but 65,000 Irish people visit Thailand every year and quite a number of Irish citizens do business there. In the circumstances, it is important that we have a physical presence on the ground, which is why we intend to continue with the arrangements for the opening of the embassy.